Trees Fall in Portland: A Cautionary Study in Impossible-to-Satisfy Local Busybody Regulation


There's wonderfully infuriating first-person account out of Portland from Tod Kelly at the League of Ordinary Gentlemen blog about what happens when you cut down trees in your yard that you weren't legally allowed to have growing there anyway and which presented a real danger to your and your neighbors' lives and property.


Read the whole thing, but suffice it to say the scenario involves multiple thousands of dollars of potential fines, anonymous and mistaken complaints from neighbors that must be pursued to the bitter end, bureaucrats making things up to satisfy their own weird preferences, and a man learning to see libertarianism in a brighter light.

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  1. Jesus. Abandom hope.

    1. You may even need to “abandon” hope.

      1. In Portland, hope abandons you!

      2. I like the idea of “Abandoooom Hope”

    2. You’ll need a permit first.

    3. Storied like this are depressing. But they also make me glad I live where I do. I can cut down whatever damn trees I want on my property.

      1. Until someone complains. Then the inspector is put into a position where they must fine you for something, or give the appearance they’re not doing their job.

        1. You don’t own your tree, the community owns you tree. It takes a village to cut down a tree.

          1. You didn’t grow that!

  2. The tree inspector explained that the only reason he was out here at all was that someone had sent a letter complaining to the city. It was anonymously sent, three pages long, and very, very angry.

    In an America where the 6th Amendment was actually respected, this could never happen.

    1. *looks up from tweeting about Justin Bieber*

      The what now?

      1. Who is this Anne Frank chick, and why isn’t she a Beileber?

    2. The Sixth only applies to criminal prosecutions. This is more affected by legislatures and local city councils abdicating their responsibilities to departmental bureaucrats.

      1. You don’t think this could turn criminal at the drop of a hat? You don’t think Kelly’s yard could mysteriously become “wetlands” tomorrow, if they wanted to?

        1. Sure, but then the “accuser” would be a government official, and would be subject to all kinds of bullshit union protections and immunity from civil liability for any number of sketchy actions.

          Anonymous tip lines should never, ever be enough to get a warrant or even create grounds for a stop-and-chat Terry stop.

          Any legal minds on here know how anonymous tipsters are viewed when warrants are issued and/or if they have identity protection in courtrooms?

          1. I agree about warrants. But as far as the 6th goes, I think it only pertains to what can be used as evidence in a criminal trial.

          2. Anonymous tipsters are enough to get a lot (most) of judges to sign off on a warrant, especially for drug crimes. *Professional* informants (ie people who tip off the police for consideration) can get some identity protections, which can include not having to testify in person.

      2. That’s why at the first sign of a problem, I believe in explaining if I get dragged into that game, I play rough. If I get turned in, they need to inform on the aggressor. If not, I will call every authority from the Department of Transportation to the Post Office telling them about every possible violation in sight.
        Having to change something about your mailbox might not be more than an annoyance, but replacing a full-size tree because of a roadway buffer zone can ruin your whole day.

        1. I thought I was an asshole for telling the little old lady down the street that the next time she called Animal Control on me for letting my cat outside, I was calling the Sheriff’s office to have her investigated for harrassment.

          1. Sometimes being an asshole pays off.

          2. you’re not an asshole for that. She’s just a crusty old bitch. Seriously, the old busibodies need to fucking die already.

            One of my coworkers was telling me about how and old couple would sneak into her neighbors yard and peak over the fence and take pictures because she dared have a dog pen that was chainlink in her back yard that was covered up by a privacy fence. They are that petty. you can’t see the chainlink if you are standing on the road or anywhere in the yard unless you are up higher.

            Old people like that seriously need to just push up daisies.

          3. Sometimes the only way to combat assholes is to be an asshole.

            We have a little old lady in our neighborhood that calls random depts with random (false) claims. She once said that my yard was “piled” full of dog crap.

            She has called CPS on my neighbors because their son was “being a delinquent” (he’s 19 and comes home at 3am *gasp*) and she was concerned for the younger children.

            She has called and complained about my landscaping. (they came out and said “well, it’s bland, but not against any regs)

            We finally got her to shut her fucking trap by calling in anonymous complaints against her every time she called on one of us. I don’t normally wish death on people, but when that old cunt dies, we’re having a block party in her “honor”

            1. Permits to cut down your own trees?
              No chain link fences?
              Dog crap police?
              Landscaping regs?
              Mailbox policies?

              FUCK! I have no idea how you people can live like that. I’d go postal.

              1. It’s a fucking joke. When I bought my house, there was a half finished fence around the yard. So, I finished it. Several months later, I got a notice that I had built the fence without a permit and must remove THE WHOLE THING!

                I found the original permit and had to go to city hall and argue with them. “fortunately”, I only had to remove the new part, then get the proper permit so I could put the exact same fence back up in the exact same fucking place.

              2. Chainlink fences are usually HOA stuff, and that’s what it is in this case. They can be onerous. But chainlink fences, at least the old ones, look like crap. And when you live in a nice neighborhood, you don’t want people putting them up. She had a privacy fence, but the chainlink was inside the yard and behind the privacy fence. It was just to keep the dog in while they were away.

                but, old people, with nothing better to do, love to call on people all the time.

            2. I’m still trying to find out whop ratted on me for having a furnace installed. It was either the old cunt next door or the retired cop across the street or the anal retentive lawn-and-snow-shoveling fairy across the street. My guess it it’s one of the pricks across the street because the old cunt has occasional bouts of civility and I shovel her walk on occasion.

          4. I thought I was an asshole

            Don’t worry, you are! The question is whether or not it was necessary to be an asshole to that person at that time.
            Just be sure to scale it to where the story spreads, and you don’t have to do it again for a long time. But make sure it doesn’t get you in front of a judge, even if you think it’s airtight.

        2. I will call every authority from the Department of Transportation to the Post Office telling them about every possible violation in sight.

          My wife and I got a nastygram from our HOA a couple of years ago about some weeds in our side yard. We’re pretty sure it was one of our at the time crazy neighbors who anonomously reported it.

          So for the next week whenever we walked our dog around the neighborhood we took pictures of weeds growing in all the common areas that are supposed to be the HOA’s responsibility and sent them the pictures. They’ve never bugged us about a few weeds in our yard since.

        3. Years ago I lived in Oakland, in a rental that had a rusty and falling apart mailbox awkwardly mounted on the railing of the steps leading up to the front door. I replaced it with a new one, but put it next to the front door, similar to where nearly all the mailboxes in the neighborhood were mounted.

          The next day I got an angry, hand-written note from the mailman, saying I would not get mail unless I put the mailbox in its correct place. I called the Post Office and eventually got someone who informed me that I needed permission from the Postmaster to move a mailbox, even a dozen feet.

          1. I needed permission from the Postmaster to move a mailbox, even a dozen feet.

            Yep, as absurd as it is, that box is USPS property.

            1. The post office doesn’t *own* your mailbox. The person owning the home/apartment/whatever owns the box, is responsible for its upkeep, and is free to change or move it.

              The USPS along with the owner own the rights to use it for the sole purpose of sending mail.

              1. Technically your neighbor placing fliers in it promoting some local event is breaking the law, but you moving it is not.

              2. And that’s not to say that the USPS can’t or doesn’t have requirements that you must fulfill before they will *use* that box.

      3. Its funny though, how those *civil* actions that don’t meet the requirements for 4th, 5th, or 6th amendment protections quickly become criminal prosecutions if you don’t do what the fuck you’re told.

    3. I hate people, especially the busy-body types.

    4. Why not?

      A complaint that led to looking at the stumps and noticing trees were removed is not a “witness against (him)”.

      All it did was bring attention to boring old publicly observable facts; there’s nothing to cross-examine or refute.

      (It might well be bad form to “inform” anonymously – it would personally fill me with inchoate murderous rage against my neighbors* – but it’s not a violation of the Sixth Amendment to act on an anonymous tip at this level.

      Now, it’d be a problem if the tip was itself used as evidence, but that is not the case here.

      * My actual neighbors are quite nice and sensible and would not do that, fortunately.)

  3. Try talking to your neighbors who whine about you sawing down your trees. With the saw still running between you. And the chain spinning. And keep stepping closer to them saying, “Sorry, but I can’t hear you!”

    Last HOA neighborhood I lived in, there were only two other lots that had anything close to the number of trees I kept. Told them feel free to pound sand.

    1. I do this as well, but with an ax.

      1. I might be well-muscled, but my height is strictly average for men my age group. That loud buzz and spinning blades keep their attention while I act old and distracted. My kid calls it my “Grand Maester Pycelle” act.

  4. Portlandia is a documentary.

    1. and events happened in real time.

      1. Virginian ain’t no boy, he’s man!

        1. I’m a man, and you…if you need me, I’m gonna be in the garage…[in a deeper voice] hangin’ Sheetrock, ’round an engine I’m rebuilding.

  5. I wouldn’t even think of getting a permit to cut down a tree. When they’re dead and dying, it’s time for them to go, before the house or a car is damaged.

    It’s happened before at the northern compound – nothing like a tree falling on your roof to wake you up at night.

    1. Me and my neighbor have spent the last 6 years chucking trees at each other.

      My tree destroyed his above ground pool. His destroyed my deck furniture.

      I think I won.

      We are mostly out of ammo now.

  6. Last year my father went to put an addition onto his house.

    The inspector comes along and notices that the perfectly functional greenhouse that’s been there for thirty years was not built with a permit. Uh oh. Must tear it down.

    He was finally allowed to put the addition onto his house, but not before tens of thousands of dollars worth of destruction, fines, permits, fees, and other associated bullshit to make the inspector happy.

    When that guy dies I’d like to piss on his grave, except that I don’t like long lines.

    1. Why wait until he dies?

    2. Cool. Another story to make me feel better about where I am. I’ve spent the last year building my house. There is an inspector and building permit and all that. Which does make me a bit irritated. But it’s all been super easy. Inspections have taken a total of about 10 minutes so far. I’d rather be in a place with no code enforcement, but I guess I have it pretty good compared to a lot of places.

      1. He’s way up in the Colorado Rockies, so the inspector views his job as making it as difficult as possible to do any construction. He claimed it was because of forest fires. He made my father clear all the trees within a certain radius of the home before he’d allow the addition. That was after tearing down a greenhouse that would cost ten grand to replace. Sadly my father, being the loyal proggy that he is, grumbled quietly but will continue to vote for the Democrats who did this to him.

        1. Tell him that’s the price for living in his mountain whiteopia.

        2. Sadly my father, being the loyal proggy that he is, grumbled quietly but will continue to vote for the Democrats who did this to him.

          You reap what you sow and don’t bother the rest of us about the consequences.

    3. Do you have a permit to do that?

  7. “Did you obtain authorization from the city to remove these trees?” he asked, pointing at the stumps. I confessed that not only had I not done so, I hadn’t been aware that I would have been required to do so. He let me know in no uncertain terms that he was sure that I had known, and just chose to flaunt my disregard for procedures.

    Ignorance of the law is no excuse unless you’re a politician, police officer or other public official.

    1. The last trees I had removed, I paid the extra cash to have them ground down to the roots. Then I immediately covered it up with mulch and a new tree.

      “What tree? What stump?”

      1. The one right here in Google Earth.

        1. Previous owner, sorry can’t help you. Here’s my lawyers number if you really want a pissing contest.

        2. When I lived in Las Vegas the development people got mad at the tree I planted in the front yard (after theirs died). I tossed the notice in the trash.

          Unrelated, but I sold the house about 4 months later.

        3. If it is the county or city they have yearly or bi-yearly GIS imagery maps taken by the FDA.

          I use them a lot for my real estate work.

          I am pretty sure google uses the same maps but it is a crap shoot to figure out what year they used where.

      2. Between friends and family we’ve a dozen roofs in the city with no permits. Dumpster shows up Friday, tear off Friday night, dumpster gone Monday morning.

    2. trees go down during wind storms all the time. say a strong wind storm comes by, and during that time, your tree gets knocked down. No one has to know!

  8. And the beauty is, after random bout of arbitrary governmental assfuckery, he will rub his wounds and vote for more of the hippies that created the problem. To do anything else means you’re saying you’d prefer Somali to America.

    1. Because, as we all well know, no one is a libertarian.

  9. First of all, the new trees cannot go where the old ones were, because those were within five feet of the road and the city does not allow trees to be within five feet of the road. Yes, that’s right: the trees he is angry I removed without permission were in a place the city does not allow trees to be.

    I once got a parking ticket from the city (actually, they sent me a notice saying I had an unpaid parking ticket) at an address which didn’t exist in the city of Seattle. When notifying the court system that no such address existed, I received a kindly notice back that essentially read, “Fuck you, pay me”.

    Anyone who’s ever dealt with the bureaucracy of a large city becomes a libertarian very quickly if you have two working braincells to rub together.

    1. One time I parked next to a sign that said “No Parking 9AM to 9PM,” and when I showed up at 8:30 in the morning the car was gone. Apparently they start their towing stealing at 8 with the police on hand in case some irate car owner tries to stop them from breaking the law. It’s ridiculous.

      1. Eh, that’s just two people to kill instead of one.

      2. While in college I was eating my lunch in the car parked, legally, off-campus. As I sat there, a city crew came by and installed “No Parking” signs. Twenty minutes after they left, a cop drove by and gave all three cars parking tickets.

        … Hobbit

  10. A similar petty outrage here: the city is trying to kill a music club because TAXES.

    1. CorporationsMusic Clubs aren’t people, maaan.

    2. But, Warty, don’t you know they play the devil’s music at the ballroom? We can’t have that kind of hooliganery around the beautiful, wonderful, clean city of Cleveland! That would ruin our image!

      1. It threatens to turn Cleveland into… Cleveland!

    3. A lot of music club supporters have urged the city to forgive the Beachland and other clubs’ debt. I don’t believe that’s fair to the city.

      A lot of people think protection racketeers should be jailed, but I don’t think that’s fair to the extortionists.


  11. Gotta love the kicker where it turns out the regulations don’t actually say what the officious asshole is telling him they do.

    1. So it’s like dealing with the average cop who doesn’t know the law, except the inspector doesn’t shoot your dog when you fail to show sufficient respect.

      1. He does try to steal $4,000 from you, though.

        1. I think if you read the article, he’s potentially in for way over that. I mean, if you count compliance.

          1. I’m just looking at the amount he threatened to fine Kelly for above what turns out to be the legal maximum. Including the legal portion of the fines and compliance? I don’t even want to think about that total.

            1. Sounds like solicitation of a bribe to me.

              BTW, some of the comments to that article were excellent…

              * if you’re going to dig a big enough hole to plant a mature tree, you could plant some bury the inspector under it as fertilizer

              * and blaming it on a beaver

  12. Sometimes a Shitty Notion.

    1. Good one.

  13. Isn’t the PNW one giant forest anyway? Who’s going to miss a tree or thousand?

    1. It’s in Portland — some of the trees got cut down and replaced with houses, some inhabited by assholes who want to tell you what to do with your property.

  14. Tree inspector. This is the sort of position that never gets laid off or downsized.

    1. Sekwester! We can’t kut nuthin!

  15. Most people become libertarians for a few minutes when they actually are confronted with the inevitable results of big government busy body-ness. Unfortunately they forget all about it by the next election day. Because, you know, you have to vote for either Giant Douche or the Turd Sandwich. There are no othe options available.

    1. Bitch, I voted for Gary Johnson.

      God, that will never… EVER get old!

      1. So did I, but I’m also a libertarian because of principles, not because of an unfortunate run-in with asshole bureaucrats.

        1. If I could get that quote on a bumper sticker, I’d finally break my no-bumper sticker rule.

          1. Seriously, we should get those printed up and sell them.

  16. Houston once again kicks ass on this kind of stuff.

    When Ike hit in 2008, a tree in our front yard fell on the house. Luckily, it didn’t smash through, and I was able, over the course of a week and half, to cut it into smaller pieces and remove the entire thing myself, with help from a few friends toward the end.

    Since then, I’ve planted four trees in my front yard: orange, apple, maple, and tallow. I have never once had any problems with local budybodies during either the removal or regarding any of the new trees.

    1. That’s more thanks to your neighbors than it is Houston regulations.

      Although I’m sure Houston isn’t as land-use-ey as Portland is, a lot of this shit does, sadly, come down to neighbors.

      And there’s no more a busy-body neighbor place in the world than the PNW- especially once you get into the affluent neighborhoods.

      Nothing screams “your business belongs to the community” than a wealthy, white, yuppie who lives in a walkable, in-city neighborhood in a house with high ceilings and tasteful hardwoods.

      1. Houston is also one of the densest tree cities in the country: Tree Cover % ? How Does Your City Measure Up? Portland isn’t on the list.

      2. Nothing screams “your business belongs to the community” than a wealthy, white, yuppie who lives in a walkable, in-city neighborhood in a house with high ceilings and tasteful hardwoods.

        Probably so.

        That said, if I ever win the lottery* I’m totally buying that house, because I love those giant old Queen Anne houses.

        Screw the neighbors. Lottery money means you can outbid their douchebaggery.

        (* Which I won’t, because I don’t play it.)

  17. Sounds like a ‘fun’ twist on the “Tree of Strife” episode of ABC’s sitcom “Last Man Standing.”….._=tt_ov_pl

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